“This Parliament is now called upon to construct an inter-national, or, if you will, an inter-Australian line, that has been too long delayed.
“It will be a great national asset. It will bring the people of the east and west of the Commonwealth closer together than they have ever been, and will, I venture to predict, open up avenues of industry and of development which generally are little dreamt of.”
HANSARD – 4 OCTOBER 1911
With those words from Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, the National Parliament approved what at that point in time was to be the largest, most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken in this country, construction of the Trans-Australia Railway.
Today, I had the privilege of joining South Australian Transport Minister Pat Conlon, Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO John Fullerton and Australasian Rail Association CEO Bryan Nye in the place – Port Augusta – where one hundred years ago this week, work on this original nation building project got underway.
When completed five years later in 1917, the line covered a distance of 1,711 kilometres from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie and boosted the world’s longest stretch of straight track (478 kilometres), a title it still holds a century later.
In closing the vast ‘tyranny of distance’ separating Western Australia from the eastern states this vital piece of infrastructure both literally and symbolically united the Australian continent.
And in the years since its economic value has only grown. Today, it carries over 80 per cent of the freight that moves between our east and west coasts.
But Andrew Fisher’s nation building agenda didn’t stop there. With vision, courage and purpose, the Labor Government he led built an unparalleled legacy of national institutions including the Australian Navy, Commonwealth Bank and the nation’s capital, Canberra.
A century later, nation-building remains at the heart of Labor’s mission for government and like Andrew Fisher, we understand the economic, environmental and social dividends from investing in rail.
That’s why we’re currently rebuilding a third of the Interstate Rail Freight Network and have already committed more to urban passenger rail than all our predecessors since Federation combined. We are determined to make the 21st century another ‘golden age’ for rail in this country.